As a point of departure for the events which follow, I would like first to give a brief introductory sketch:
It is important to note the ordinariness, the normality of the life led by my three friends and me up until the dialogues began. Nevertheless, this life was a preparation for what was to come.
I was sixteen years old in 1923 when I first met Hanna. We were both students at the School of Applied Arts in Budapest, where we worked at neighboring tables. From the first moment, Hanna was open and very friendly towards me, but I was the product of a military family proud of its motto: 'Above all, be strong!' Thus I was surprised and puzzled by Hanna's affectionate nature. In my upbringing, any display of feelings had been considered a sign of weakness and even a simple kiss of departure was cause for embarrassment.
Hanna, whose father was an elementary school principal, grew up in the more natural atmosphere of a modern Jewish family and she was accustomed to showing her feelings spontaneously. Despite these differences in temperament and upbringing, we became close friends in the course of the next three years.
After final exams, however, our ways parted and we seldom had contact. Hanna continued her studies in Munich, while I threw myself totally and blindly into sports: swimming championships, national records and the adulation which Hungary showered upon its sports heroes fed my pride and kept me indulging in a superficial lifestyle for the next four years. It was during this period that I made the acquaintance of Lili, who was giving courses in movement therapy. Her warm and natural manner attracted great numbers of pupils and I soon realized that the reason for her overcrowded classes was that her students were experiencing something going far beyond physical relaxation: their inner essence was being nourished.
I heard little from Hanna during my sports idol days. She had married Joseph, a quiet man, who was a furniture designer by profession. His very presence had a soothing influence on his surroundings. I often observed this later when we lived together in Budaliget: in the village inn, where the townspeople had the habit of engaging in heated political quarrels, the atmosphere would inevitably calm and all would become peaceful within moments of Joseph's arrival. This was a typical effect of his silent way of being.
When I finally had had enough of sports, I decided to seek out Hanna once more. She and Joseph had settled into a work studio in the Ilona-utca on the hills of Buda, overlooking the Danube to a gorgeous view. With great patience and understanding, Hanna helped me find my way back to artistic activity, something I had completely neglected since completing my studies. Without her accompaniment, I would never have been able to regain my joy in creative work. As it turned out, the three of us eventually founded what soon became a very successful graphic arts studio.
In the years 1934 and 1935, anti-Semitism was already widespread in Hungary. Thus, as the only non-Jew in the group, it was my role to obtain government commissions, primarily for touristic events and advertising, whereby my sports reputation and status as the daughter of a high-ranking military officer were beneficial assets. Unfortunately, I always had to hide the fact that my colleagues were Jewish.
The 'soul' of our professional group was undeniably Hanna. She possessed tremendous powers of concentration and intuition which enabled her to immediately grasp the essence of an artistic conception, as well as its practical realization. She had the knack of being able to solve problems with a wonderful blend of common sense, clear psychological insight and, above all, humor.
By this time, Hanna had some graphic pupils of her own and, many years later, one of these young artists, Vera, told me: "The intensity of Hanna's teaching touched not only our professional development, but our entire being. It demanded so much of us that some students simply could not bear it and chose to leave. Hanna never critiqued a design without our feeling personally touched, even if it involved only the most trivial advertising graphics. She considered every line of a drawing to be the manifestation of an inner event. During the actual lessons, our contact with her was quite different: she would intuitively tune in to another wavelength and read our drawings like a doctor reads an X-ray, but with affection, firmness and cheerfulness.
Before beginning to speak, she sometimes had no idea of what she was going to say and was then astonished at her own words. As a young student, I was very attached to her and she became a model for me. But Hanna completely rejected this dependency on my part. She would say to us, 'After two or three years of my teaching, you must find your own inner teacher.' For her, the most important thing was to awaken the new being in us: 'the creative individual, freed from fear.'"
Our studio prospered. And yet, ever more, we had the feeling that we were living on the edge of a cliff. Collective blindness was on the rise, along with a flood of organized political lies. If something were promised by the Nazis, for instance, one could be sure that just the opposite would occur. A strong desire was welling in us to find the truth - our truth - beneath so much deception. This led Joseph and Hanna to seek and ultimately find a small house not far from Budapest in the little village of Budaliget, for the purpose of starting a new and simple way of life. I soon joined them there and we worked just enough to support our daily needs. Lili joined us on the weekends.
The quiet village life was beneficial to our inner development. However, this period began for me with a growing feeling of emptiness. An inexplicable expectation of a coming something deeply disturbed me and I often went for daylong walks in the forest in search of peace. Again and again, even at mealtimes, I would catch myself looking toward the garden gate in expectation of this 'something' or 'someone' that should come and change my life. In the evenings, we would often discuss our experiences and try to discover the sources of our problems.
Hanna's intuitive gifts were a great help, but still we all felt ourselves to be at a dead end. We were interested in the great religious currents of humanity and our bookshelves held the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita and Lao-Tse; yet none of us was practicing a religion.
We felt ourselves to be standing before a world of lies, brutality and all-pervading evil. At the same time, we were convinced that the meaning of our lives must be buried somewhere, and that the cause of our not finding it must be in ourselves.
With this in mind, we decided at one point that each of us should write down as clearly as possible our individual problems, so as to better be able to discuss them together. One day over black coffee, I read aloud what I had written to Hanna, who dryly remarked that this was nothing but the familiar old stories, warmed over yet again. It was all too true, and I was painfully aware of my blatant superficiality. I was asking Hanna questions that I could just as easily have answered myself, but it was less strenuous to have the answer simply 'served' to me.
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-> Gitta Mallasz